At least in my experience, the modern gun show sucks. Huge letdown. It’s full of striker-fired polymer-frame pistols, AR-15s, Wish-quality optics, and everything wears an extreme markup. Don’t forget the cheap Chinese knives, the sound of tasers, and, of course, the random pyramid scheme.
So, imagine my shock when my little town had its first gun show in decades, and it was precisely what gun shows should be. I ended up walking away with two pistols, one of which is featured here: the Astra 600 AKA the Pistole Astra 600/43.
This gun show had piles of cool surplus guns. Highlights include a .410 caliber Lee-Enfield, a Vietnam-era Starlight scope, and a nice gentlemen with a table of surplus handguns priced appropriately. He and I chatted extensively about various pistols, calibers, and even historical events. I was caught between two guns, an Astra 600 and an FN M1922, and I was having trouble deciding. Both were fairly priced, but he made an offer I couldn’t refuse if I purchased both.
So here we are, and I’m now the proud owner of an Astra 600 and an FN M1922. Today we dive into the Astra 600, the Wermacht pistol the world kind of forgot. It’s an oddly shaped pistol with a sharp grip angle and strange, tubular design to it. The Astra certainly catches the eye.
History of the Astra 600
It’s 1943, and Nazi Germany needs more pistols. They couldn’t get enough Walthers, Hi-Powers, or old Lugers into service, apparently. The sad little bastards reached across Europe and contracted with Spain for more handguns. The Germans requested that Unceta y Cia redesign the Astra 400.
They wanted to trim the barrel length from 5.9 inches to 5.3 inches, and they wanted to chamber the pistol in 9mm Luger. The old Astra 400 used the underappreciated 9mm Largo, but the Germans predictably wanted to standardize the pistols. The Spaniards redesigned and altered the Astra as requested, and the Astra 600 came to life.
The Spaniards sent fifty of the pistols to the Germans for approval in late 1943. The Germans did a once-over and approved the Astra as the Astra 600/43. They placed an order, with the first delivery being set for May 1944. The Germans received three total deliveries of the pistols, with a little over 10,000 being delivered to the German war machine. The final shipment arrived in July 1944.
In June 1944, the Normandy invasion began. Germany had been getting their butts handed to them since Stalingrad, but that accelerated greatly after Normandy, especially since Germany relied on the occupation of France to take delivery of the pistols. The Astra 600s sat unused until after the war when West Germany took delivery, alongside Portugal and Turkey for their police forces.
In the 1960s, Interarms purchased the pistols and imported them to the United States. Now, all these years later, one sits locked in my safe.
Astra 600 Design Details
The Astra 600 comes from a generation of pistols that embraced that all-metal design. The gun weighs 2.4 pounds. If you run the gun dry, you can beat someone to death with it. Also, like most pistols of this day and age, the weapon used a single stack magazine that contained eight rounds of 9mm.
The system used a very simple blowback operation. The fixed barrel uses a very stiff spring that’s quite standard on direct blowback 9mms. You must have a means to delay the opening of the breach, and you have few options for this with blowback pistols. You can use a stiff recoil spring or a very heavy slide, or some combination of both.
The gun utilized an internal, single action only hammer and a very interesting magazine release. It’s on the left-hand side of the gun and sits on the bottom of the grip. This is a Navy release according to Astra’s conventions. The standard Astra pistols utilized a heel magazine release. Swapping magazines is fairly easy for a bottom-mounted magazine release. Pinch it, grab the magazine and go.
On the left side of the gun also sits a manual safety that’s in front of the pistol grip and immediately below the slide. It rotates upward to be ‘safe.’ Your thumb can just reach the safety to disable it. The Astra 600 safety disables itself when you operate the slide. It also has a grip safety and a magazine safety.
At the Range
This won’t be a gun I shoot all the time, but it’s a solid enough shooter. The sights are standard for the time and very small. It’s a notch and a little thin post. It works well enough when Americans, Russians, and the Brits aren’t shooting at you. The trigger isn’t great, but not terrible. The Astra 600 is a tack driver.
Even with the small sights, this thing is very accurate and creates tiny groups at 15 yards. At 25 yards, I can ring steel over and over without much difficulty. The blowback design ensures there is plenty of felt recoil, and a thin grip doesn’t give you much to help spread the recoil out. It digs in, and you’ll appreciate Browning’s short recoil design after a few magazines.
The grip looks almost entirely straight but doesn’t feel uncomfortable. It’s surprisingly not bad, especially when you shoot one-handed in a bladed style. The heavily checkered grips are quite nice, and the aggressive checkering keeps the gun locked in your hand.
The slide locks to the rear when the last round is fired, and dropping the slide requires releasing the magazine, inserting a fresh one, and then working the slide. The Astra 600 features very small but very aggressively textured slide wings. These little portions of slide serrations make it a fair bit easier to rack the slide even against the strong recoil spring.
The Forgotten WW2 Pistol
The Astra 600 is a robust and reliable little pistol often forgotten about in the grand scheme of World War Two pistols. It’s an interesting-looking pistol that might be one of the last art deco-looking semi-autos. They are reasonably affordable for collectors and provide a great entry point into the world of milsurp pistols.